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Function-Based Assessment Tools in School-based OT

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Welcome back to our ongoing series, where we dive into the essential school-based OT assessment tools that guide our practice. We've already explored the tools for evaluating fine motor and handwriting skills, sensory processing, and executive functioning. Now, we're turning our attention to a cornerstone of our work: functional skills as they relate to educational access.

As we all know, the school environment is a complex ecosystem where children not only learn academic skills but also navigate a myriad of functional tasks. From participating in classroom activities to maneuvering the school campus, each student's ability to function effectively is crucial for their educational success. That's where we come in, and that's why today's focus is on the tools that help us assess functional living skills related to education.

The assessments we’ll discuss below are not just part of an evaluation formality. They provide the roadmap for our interventions, helping us to tailor our strategies to each child's unique needs. So, let's dive in and explore the assessment tools that empower us to make data-driven decisions for enhancing our students' functional performance in school.

Understanding Functional School-based OT Assessments

Moreover, functional school-based OT assessments serve as a bridge between different stakeholders involved in a child's education. They facilitate communication between OTs, teachers, parents, and other professionals, ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to a student's needs and goals. By providing a common language and framework, these assessments enable collaborative problem-solving and decision-making, which is essential for holistic care.

The beauty of functional assessments lies in their practicality. While traditional assessments might measure a child's abilities in a controlled setting, functional assessments take into account the complexities and variables of a school day. They help us answer questions like, "Can this student participate fully in classroom activities?" or "In what performance areas do I need to look at deeper?" This makes them invaluable tools for guiding the entire assessment process and creating effective intervention strategies that are directly applicable to a student's daily life in school.

Functional assessments are evaluations that focus on the real-world, everyday tasks a student needs to perform in school. These assessments are not just about identifying deficits or challenges; they're about understanding the whole child in the context of their educational environment. They provide us with a comprehensive view of a student's abilities, needs, and the supports required for them to succeed academically and socially. They can also help us identify what performance skills we may need to dig deeper into.

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Functional Assessment Tools

The tools laid out below are done so in no particular order. For each assessment, I've provided you with:

  • A brief overview of the tool

  • The age ranges the tool is primarily appropriate for

  • The time needed to complete the assessment

  • How it is administrated

  • Scoring and interpretation tips

  • And a few benefits and limitations as I see them.

Some are checklists, while others are based on in-the-moment observations. No one tool is better than the others, but they are each unique in how they can best help you to support your students.

Have a look at all seven.

The SFA (School Functional Assessment)

  • Brief Overview: The School Functional Assessment (SFA) is designed to measure elementary students' performance in a variety of functional tasks that are required in a typical school setting. It evaluates areas such as participation, task supports, and activity performance through a questionnaire completed by the teacher and other adults familiar with the student.

  • Age Range: Kindergarten through 6th grade

  • Time Needed: About 5 minutes per individual scale for the rater to complete. You can ask the teacher to complete anywhere from 1 to more than 15 scales. Scoring is relatively quick to complete.

  • Administration Format: Teacher/Caregiver Interview. Observations are also an option.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Quantifies functional performance and support needs.

  • Benefits:

    • Provides a comprehensive evaluation of a student's functional abilities in school.

    • Useful for IEP development and goal setting.

    • Relatively easy assessment to administer.

  • Limitations:

    • Can be time-consuming for the rater, leading to less reliable responses as it goes on.

    • May require input from multiple professionals for a complete evaluation.

    • Is very old and needs to be updated. No one uses floppy discs anymore… 💾

The Schoodles School Fine Motor Assessment (SFMA)

  • Brief Overview: The Schoodles is a quick and efficient tool that assesses fine motor and visual-motor skills in children using real life educational tasks, often used to identify areas that may require further evaluation or intervention.

  • Age Range: Ages 3 years and up. The skills assessed are primarily those you would see in an elementary setting.

  • Time Needed: Approximately 30 minutes.

  • Administration Format: Direct Testing.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Provides a snapshot of fine motor and visual-motor skills as they relate to educational tasks.

  • Benefits:

    • Quick and easy to administer, making it ideal for both evaluations and whole-class screenings.

    • Each task can be directly tied back to common tasks seen in an educational setting.

    • No need to re-purchase assessment booklets. Just copy the templates provided and provide your own fine motor tools.

    • Includes a "Sample goal and objective template" chart to help you create IEP goals.

  • Limitations:

    • While the Schooldles is not a standardized tool, the tool does come with a copy of their "Schoodles Observation Chart" that outlines the approximate age of skill attainment for each skill assessed.

    • Limited to skills primarily mastered in elementary school and may not directly apply to order students.

The COPM (Canadian Occupational Performance Measure)

  • Brief Overview: The Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) is unique in that it captures a client’s self-perception of their performance in everyday living. This makes it a highly client-centered tool.

  • Age Range and Focus: All ages; focuses on self-perception of everyday tasks.

  • Time Needed: 20-30 minutes.

  • Administration Format: Interview.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Based on client's self-report and priorities.

  • Benefits:

    • Highly client-centered, allowing for personalized goal setting.

    • Quick to administer, making it practical for busy school settings.

  • Limitations:

    • Results are subjective and may require additional assessments for a complete picture.

    • May not be suitable for very young children or those with cognitive impairments.

    • May require you to familiarize yourself with Goal Attainament Scaling (GAS) in order to measure progress.

The M-FUN (Miller Function & Participation Scales)

  • Brief Overview: A personal favorite of mine, the Miller Function & Participation Scales (M-FUN) evaluates a child's functional performance as it relates to their school participation. It covers a wide range of activities and provides detailed insights into both strengths and limitations.

  • Age Range: 2.0 to 7.11 years

  • Time Needed: about 45 minutes to administer and 20 minutes to score.

  • Administration Format: Direct Testing, Observation.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Identifies functional limitations and participation challenges. Scores on individual tasks are linked back to the skills required to meet that task demand. This allows you to identify patterns and areas of need.

  • Benefits:

    • Comprehensive and age-specific, making it highly relevant for school-based OT.

    • Useful for both goal setting and measuring progress over time.

    • Personal note - the M-FUN is my go-to tool for students who fit the age range

  • Limitations:

    • Can be time-consuming to learn how to administer.

    • May require multiple sessions for a complete evaluation.

The GOAL (Goal-Oriented Assessment of Lifeskills)

  • Brief Overview: The Goal-Oriented Assessment of Lifeskills (GOAL) assesses functional motor abilities needed for daily living. It uses real-life activities as tasks, making the assessment highly relatable for children.

  • Age Range and Focus: 7 to 17 years;

  • Time Needed: 40-60 minutes.

  • Administration Format: Direct Testing.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Used to identify areas needing support or intervention.

  • Benefits:

    • Uses real-life activities as tasks, making it relatable and engaging for children.

    • Suitable for a wide age range, providing flexibility in assessment.

    • Created by Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR/L - The same author of the M-FUN

    • In some ways, this is the "next level up" from the M-FUN in terms of assessment tools for students as they age.

  • Limitations:

    • May require specialized training for accurate administration.

    • May not cover all functional areas relevant to school-based OT. Assesses skills often categorized as functional life skills, as opposed to educational skills. Activities such as:

      • Using feeding utensils

      • Opening a lock

      • Completing a simple construction project

      • Organizing a notebook

      • Dressing

      • Ball Play

      • Carrying a tray

The PEDI (Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory)

  • Brief Overview: The Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI) is a comprehensive tool that measures a child's capabilities and deficits in self-care, mobility, and social function. It provides valuable insights into how a child performs daily activities and interacts socially.

  • Age Range and Focus: 6 months to 7sssssssssssssss years; can be used for older children with functional impairments.

  • Time Needed: 30-45 minutes.

  • Administration Format: Parent/Caregiver Interview, Observation.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Identifies areas of strength and weakness in daily activities and social interactions.

  • Benefits:

    • Versatile and well-researched, suitable for a wide range of age groups.

    • Provides a comprehensive view of a child's functional abilities.

    • Measures self-care, mobility and social function

  • Limitations:

    • May require trained administration for accurate results.

The Roll Evaluation of Activities of Life (REAL)

  • Brief Overview: The Roll Evaluation of Activities of Life assesses a child's ability to perform activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, and feeding. It provides a snapshot of a child's functional capabilities in these essential areas.

  • Age Range and Focus: 2 to 18 years; focuses on activities of daily living (ADLs).

  • Time Needed: 30-45 minutes.

  • Administration Format: Observation, Caregiver Interview.

  • Scoring and Interpretation: Identifies strengths and weaknesses in ADLs.

  • Benefits:

    • Versatile in terms of age range, making it applicable for a wide variety of students.

    • Can be administered through both interviews and observation, providing flexibility.

  • Limitations:

    • Limited to assessing activities of daily living (ADLs).

    • May require input from caregivers for a comprehensive evaluation.

Informal Assessment of Functional Educational Skills

While formal assessment tools are indispensable for gathering objective data, they often provide just a snapshot of a student's abilities at a given moment. It's crucial to remember that children are not static; they are continually growing and adapting. A formal assessment might capture how a student performs under specific conditions, but it may not fully represent their capabilities or challenges in the dynamic environment of a classroom.

This is where informal assessments come into play, particularly observations in the classroom. Observing a student in their natural educational setting can provide a wealth of information that complements formal assessments. For example, a child may perform well in a one-on-one testing situation but struggle with distractions in a busy classroom. Observations can confirm the findings of formal assessments, but they can also discredit or challenge those findings. Perhaps a student shows difficulty in a formal fine motor assessment but manages well with classroom tools and materials. These discrepancies between formal and informal assessments are not just anomalies; they are critical data points that can guide our intervention strategies.

Classroom observations, teacher interviews, and task analyses offer invaluable insights into a student's functional abilities. These methods can complement formal assessments, filling in the gaps and providing a more complete picture of a student's functional capabilities. By integrating both formal and informal assessment methods, we can develop a more nuanced understanding of each student, allowing us to tailor our interventions more effectively.

You've assessed the student. Now what?

Sign up for the A-Z School-Based OT Course to help you better understand how to complete an OT evaluation. You'll get access to my evaluation document template to improve your evaluation write-ups!

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Assessing Beyond Functional Skills.

As I noted above, functional assessment tools can often serve as an excellent starting point for a comprehensive evaluation. They provide a broad picture of a child's ability to function in the classroom. However, these tools can also point you toward specific performance areas where a child may be struggling. If that's the case, you may need to dive deeper into one of these areas:

  1. Fine Motor Skills: Assessing a student's ability to use and coordinate small muscles in the hands and fingers to perform precise movements required for handwriting, opening containers, and more.

  2. Executive Functioning: Assessing skills related to organization, time management, planning, and self-regulation to address challenges that impact task initiation, focus, time management, and assignment completion.

  3. Visual Perception and Visual-Motor Skills: Evaluating how students interpret and use visual information for motor planning and coordination, supporting academic performance.

  4. Sensory Processing: Evaluating how students perceive and respond to sensory information to develop strategies for managing sensory challenges and promoting engagement in school activities.

  5. Social-Emotional Skills: Assessing students' social interactions, emotional regulation, self-awareness, and coping strategies to enhance social skills, self-esteem, and emotional well-being, fostering positive relationships and school engagement.

By considering these additional areas and employing comprehensive assessment approaches, we can address the diverse needs of students and support their holistic development, functional participation, and overall well-being in the school environment.

The Wrap Up

The assessment process is a multifaceted one, especially in the dynamic environment of a school. As school-based OT practitioners, there are a plethora of tools that can be used, each offering unique insights into our students' functional abilities. From comprehensive formal assessments like the SFA and PEDI to less formal tools like The Schoodles, we can gather valuable data to guide our practice. But it's crucial to remember that these tools are just the starting point.

As we've discussed, functional assessments often serve as a gateway to more specialized evaluations. They give us a broad view of a child's functional abilities in the classroom but may also point us toward specific areas that require further investigation. Whether it's fine motor skills, sensory processing, or social-emotional abilities, a deeper dive is often necessary to fully understand each child's unique challenges and strengths.

Moreover, we must not underestimate the power of informal assessments. Observations in the classroom can either confirm or challenge our formal assessment findings, providing a more nuanced and complete picture of a student's abilities. By integrating both formal and informal methods, we can tailor our interventions more effectively, ensuring that each child receives the support they need to succeed in the educational setting.

In the end, the goal is to provide holistic, data-driven interventions that enhance our students' functional performance and quality of life in school. And that starts with choosing the right assessment tools for the job.

If you appreciated this article, be sure to join our email list below to know when the next helpful article is posted.

Until next time,

👋 Jayson

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